If you dread going into work, have anxieties and fears about your workday, it’s probably because you’ve got a bad boss making your workday a living hell. Unfortunately you’re not alone—80 percent of employees leave their jobs because of their bosses. For many people the behaviors of bad bosses begin to affect the their mental and physical health, notwithstanding his/her ability to do the job well.
“Simply uttering the word, ’boss’ drives an emotional response,” says Andrew O’Keeffe, a human resources executive of 25 years and author of the book appropriately entitled, The Boss. “It’s gotten so bad that even the mention of our supervisors can tie our stomachs into knots.” O’Keeffe, who has been observing bosses for many years recognizes the symptoms of a frustrated subordinate— feeling trapped, helpless and being plagued by self-doubt are all consequences of cruel managers. The affected employee must choose to stay in the job and be demeaned, or complain and get fired: It’s constant struggle to maintain one’s self-esteem.
“It becomes an either-or situation. In a bad economy, it’s more difficult to find a new job so managers find that their power-base is increased,” O’Keeffe says.
If you’re an employee in this frustrating situation, first thing to do is to recognize the type of bad boss you’re dealing with. For some bosses, it’s possible to reason with them because some simply “don’t know what they don’t know,” as Dave Schoof, a LinkedIn professional points out. So providing that you approach sticky management issues with diplomacy and courtesy, it’s possible to turn a bad boss into a not so bad one. But be advised that there are some bosses who are just insane, impossible and incapable of changing.
Here are some common characteristics of a bad manager and if you recognize any of them in your boss, buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The thieving boss
You spend days and nights producing an in-depth article that is guaranteed to bring your publication’s traffic numbers into the millions. The idea is so original that big content partners like AOL and Yahoo are calling your extension asking for syndication rights. You submit the article to your editor-in-chief and wait patiently for the permission to publish on the Web site. Three days later, you see your article live on the site but with your boss’s byline.
A manager who steals the work and ideas of his/her employees is someone who lacks work ethics and is insecure in his/her own ability to succeed in the company. They’re often incompetent and incapable of formulating their own original ideas and will resort to stealing to hide their deficiencies. Thieving bosses will never take responsibility for their bad behavior— they will blame subordinates when the company goals are not met. If there is success to be had, they will take all the credit and refuse to acknowledge anyone else. Employees who’ve had to work under such bosses often suffer anxieties and depression. They feel under-valued and demeaned.
“Whenever you have a good idea, don’t just tell your boss about it. Write it in a memo and copy someone else on the memo, like your boss’s boss or another manager whose department may be positively impacted by your effort,” says Marilyn Haight author of Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Boss, How to Survive 13 Types of Dysfunctional, Disrespectful, Dishonest Little Dictators. “It’s hard to steal an idea when someone else knows who the originator is right from the start.”
If you want to confront your boss about his/her unethical behavior, Haight offers some suggestions on her Web site, BigBadBoss.com.
• Keep an “audit trail of how you came up with the idea and developed it into a workable asset.”
• Keep a careful record of all emails and memos that document the completion of your work.
• Send your boss a written memo, email it if you like, asking how s/he was able to take credit for the work that you did. Be diplomatic and expect that the response you get will most likely be unsatisfactory.
Unfortunately, confronting a thieving boss will in most cases, lead to negative results. The aggrieved employee will likely be retaliated against or bullied into resigning in many instances.
Still, if you’re ready to face the possibility of being discharged, confronting your boss is still a good way to regain a modicum of your self-respect. But if you’re afraid of getting fired, you can just sit tight and hope that the poor ethics of your boss eventually catches up to him/her.
The overly-friendly boss
Friendly and likable bosses can appear at first to be the “cool” boss. They often come across as a work buddy, more so than one in a leadership position. While this may seem like an ideal scenario for many people, there are distinct reasons why some bosses work this way.
For one, trying to be popular is often a sign of someone who lacks confidence. It can be deceptive because they’re so damn likeable but in truth, bosses who work too hard to gain respect from their subordinates ultimately end up losing it. A good boss should work to be respected, not liked because part of good management involves making tough decisions, which is often unpopular.
“I have seen what seemed like wonderful working relationships go sour over and over, because of the friendship that develops,” says Lynn Brown, an SEO consultant at Canzdesign.com. “The boss doesn’t like to point out errors in case that affects the friendship and then ends up resenting the employee.”
In the event that you happen to report to one of these friendly bosses, try to remember that they have firing power. No matter how approachable and accommodating they may seem at first, never underestimate their position by taking advantage of a nice boss’s friendly persona. They may grant you the days off but it’s very possible that they internally resent you for it. If given the chance, there is a very strong possibility that they will choose to exercise their right to fire if they feel you don’t respect them
The micro-managing boss
A boss who is constantly hovering over you, calling you over, checking up on you, is a micromanaging boss. This kind of boss is controlling because they lack confidence in their own abilities and as a result, resort to over-managing. These bosses are not only incapable of managing personnel they’re often incompetent in their own duties and often typify the Peter Principle, a theory that a manager is promoted to a level of incompetence. The micromanager is often lazy, expecting subordinates to do all the work, including his/her own duties.
Tim Mayeur, a Millennial employee shares his experience with a micro-manager who insisted on his employees’ participating in decision-making exercises. “They asked us to rationalize our decisions while he picked them apart,” Mayeur says. He also recalls that everyone’s phone calls were monitored—even employees’ bathroom breaks were marked on the office white board.
“This micromanager did absolutely zero work nor contributed anything to the job in three years, utilizing politics to stay in the position, would tell people that they were responsible for things they weren’t,” he says.
Many employees feel trapped and greatly stressed out when they’re over-managed. Bad leadership also creates a barrier between the boss and the employees and this also creates distrust in the work environment. The worst part about working with such an employer is that most often, these bosses cannot be reasoned with: Anything you say to contradict a micromanager can be seen as insubordination, which can easily land you in termination territory.
So unless you’re prepared for the worst-case scenario, the best advice here is to just grin and bear it until a better job comes along.
The bullying boss
A boss, who threatens employees, uses scare tactics, makes unfounded accusations, screams and abuses, is a workplace bully and one of the most harmful types of people to deal with. Employees who contend on daily basis with a bullying boss have suffered serious mental and health consequences as a result of being exposed to abusive behaviors.
According to WBI-Zogby U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 54 million Americans are bullied each year and the effect of workplace abuse on employees was more detrimental to their health than that of sexual harassment.
Beverly Peterson, a documentary filmmaker based in New York, suffered similarly at the hands of an abusive boss. “In little more than two years, my boss bullied her way through six or more employees in the same position before me. The better I was at my job, the better she got at being a bully and the more outrageous her behavior became,” she recalls.
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When Peterson contacted an attorney, she was told that workplace bullying was in fact legal and that there was really nothing she could do. Peterson was so traumatized by her experience with a bullying boss that she began a crusade to end workplace abuse. She started filming the experiences of other victims in an effort to raise awareness on this issue and its devastating effects on employees: She is also the founder of nojobisworththis.com, a Web site that explores workplace abuses.
“This is about those rogue bosses who have slithered their way up through the cracks in the corporate ladder. The ones determined to target one employee after another and emotionally destroy them. In the schoolyard we learned to stand up to a bully. But in the workplace, the… same approach might cost you your job, benefits, savings, and your health,” Peterson says.
Now the government is stepping in to combat workplace harassment: New York State is working on passing a bill to study the affect of hostile work environments. There are laws to protect employees against discrimination and sexual harassment but no specific law protecting workers against workplace abuse and bullying. This study bill will be the first step in implementing an anti-bullying policy against employers. In parts of Canada and Europe, anti-workplace abuse law is in full effect.
“Everybody knows the difference between right and wrong. If people cannot go to work because they’re sick to their stomach everyday and because they’re being taken advantage of, or they’re being yelled at, these things are wrong and we’re asking the Department of Labor, in a comprehensive way, to help us,” says NY Assemblyman Mark Schroeder. State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson links workplace abuse as a form of domestic violence.
Peterson believes that if appropriate laws are enacted, bullying and abusive bosses can be put on guard and eventually stopped.
“I can’t wait for the public forum this will create in allowing all of us… to address this issue from a legal standpoint. I’d like to see this include business leaders, HR representatives, advocates and researchers,” Peterson says. “Most aggressive managers can change their behavior when faced with a truly firm understanding that this behavior will not be tolerated by upper management. For me, the law steps in to protect the employee in cases when the management is unwilling to”
Tracey and Kali’s Law chronicles the after effects of a single mother Tracey, whose boss threatened her with isolation and psychological intimidation. After leaving the job, Tracey suffered severe depression, lost her home, and savings.
Marlene’s Law tells the story of a woman whose boss terrorized her so much that she ultimately committed suicide.
To view more of Peterson’s documentaries on please visit, www.nojobisworththis.com
The two-faced boss
This is the boss who “buddies up” to subordinates by taking employees out for lunch, buying them the occasional coffee or delegating assignments in a way that is suspiciously too comfortable and easy-going. If these signs match that off your own boss, it’s very possible that you’ve got a two-faced boss ready to show an ugly side.
If a male boss is buddying up with female subordinates that can easily signal a boss that’s taking an interest in items that aren’t work-related. The last thing any a woman needs is unwanted attention from a boss so be very careful when being greeted with overly friendly gestures from a male supervisor.
An insecure manager may turn to putting on two-faces to accommodate different work dynamics. S/he may smile and cozy up to upper-level management while screaming and micromanaging the subordinates.
It’s also possible that double-sided bosses may change faces depending on the fluctuating facets of the work environment. The manager may suffer from a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome in which s/he may be sort that cannot handle the pressure of time management and resort to contrasting personalities. In the calm of the storm, this type of boss will be the sweetest and most accommodating of people but during moments of the storm itself, s/he will morph into a Mr. Hyde character shouting, accusing and threatening subordinates
Two-faced bosses typically exhibit other bad behaviors— stealing ideas and work of subordinates, backstabbing, manipulating and finger pointing are signs of bosses who hide behind a likeable façade.
The best advice for working under such unpredictable managers is to keep a back up copy of all your work and to keep others on the update of your progress. That way, accusations can be backed up and there will be a copy of your work in case your boss pretends not to have received it. And always smile while keeping an eye in the back of your head.
For more articles on work-related issues, please check out:
The Politics Series: The Politics of Facebook Friending your Colleagues | The Politics of being a Woman on the Job: Why can’t we all just get along? | The Politics of Being Young on the Job: Managing the Kid Boss | The Politics of being cute on the job: Are you too Sexy for the Workplace? | The Politics of the bad boss | The Politics of Office Romance
Everything in between: Tips for managing the Millennial Generation | When You’re Smarter than the Boss | Knowing When to Speak Up and When Not to |Equal Work, Unequal Pay: What to do if You’re the Victim of Gender Discrimination
Do you need advice dealing with awful coworkers, bosses and other workplace issues? Find the author on Twitter @JiHyun42 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell her all about it. You could be featured in an upcoming article!